Ignoring or handling a complaint badly can be the death of an otherwise perfectly sound small business.
While many companies have in the past got away with ignoring complaints, social media is making it easier for them to be held to account. And in a competitive market, customers can choose where to shop which can have a swift and dramatic impact on a business.
The recent tribulations of Thomas Cook and how it acted following the death of two children from carbon monoxide poisoning in a holiday cottage in 2006 are a good example of how badly things can go wrong.
Particularly relevant to many SMEs are the client feedback websites like TripAdviser, Trivago and Trustatrader that can influence a purchase decision.
So what are the crucial steps that should be taken if something does go wrong?
All businesses should have a complaints handling procedure and make sure all employees are briefed and follow it.
It should include the steps to be taken:
Firstly, the person who receives the complaint should apologise and take the full details of what has happened.
Secondly, someone with authority to act should be alerted as soon as possible and they should let the complainant know they are taking responsibility for dealing with the complaint and deal with it promptly.
Thirdly, in an age where people regularly put their complaints onto social media the SME should publicise its apology as widely as possible and how it put things right.
We would advocate that speaking to customers, feedback forms and satisfaction questionnaires during and immediately after the client interaction will highlight potential problems that can be nipped in the bud, long before they become a serious grievance.
Remember also that even if the problem was caused by a supplier or sub contractor, or happened under a previous regime that cuts no ice for a complainant with a grievance.
How does your company handle complaints from unhappy customers?